Tackle medicine manufacturers over high costs
By Shelley Wright
MANUFACTURERS of animal health products rather than veterinary surgeons should be taken to task over the high cost of medicines in this country, according to the Scottish NFU.
In its formal submission to the independent panel appointed by government to review dispensing by veterinary surgeons, established under the chairmanship of Sir John Marsh earlier this year, the union insists that reducing the cost of veterinary medicines to farmers is essential.
"But we do not consider that removing veterinary surgeons ability to dispense POM – prescription only medicines – products would make a significant contribution to this," the union states.
According to Peter Stewart, SNFU vice president, the blame for higher prices lies at the door of the manufacturers rather than abuse by vets of their right to dispense POM products.
While the NFU of England and Wales agrees that prices are too high in the UK, it believes this is a result of excessive mark-ups right through the distribution chain rather than being the fault of the manufacturers alone.
The Scottish NFU says that removing vets ability to dispense prescription only products would be counter productive as it would almost certainly result in veterinary practices seeking to compensate for lost revenue from product sales, either by reducing their manpower or increasing their professional and call-out fees.
The British Veterinary Association has already made clear that it does not believe that removing vets rights to dispense POMs, leaving them to write prescriptions for drugs that farmers will then buy from a pharmacy, will make any difference to medicine prices.
It has also highlighted potential animal welfare concerns if POMs were available only from pharmacists, believing that, in the current economic climate, farmers might be less inclined to call for a vet if they knew that the call-out fee would be higher than its current rate.
Roger Cook, director of NOAH, the animal health firms representative organisation, insists that farmers complaints of higher medicine costs in the UK do not stand up to scrutiny.
"Its pointless comparing drug prices alone," he says. "You must look at the total cost of the vet, the medicine, national taxes and so on. And when you do this, the complaint about costs being higher in the UK is not justified."
NOAH does agree, however, that some products should be considered for re-classification so that they can be made more widely available. But Mr Cook rejects the inclusion of dry cow therapy tubes, suggested by the Scottish union, in any review.
He believes that would be a mistake. "In the present climate where antibiotic use on farms is under scrutiny I do not believe it is sensible to even talk about removing the POM classification from these products," he says.
Peter Rudman, animal health adviser with the NFU in London, agrees. While the union wants to see some products, such as inactivated vaccines for diseases like husk or leptospirosis, removed from the POM list, it does not believe any antibiotics should. "This is nothing to do with safety and everything to do with public perception.
"We must continue to show the public that farmers are using antibiotics responsibly which is why we believe they should remain on the prescription only list." *
• Manufacturers to blame?
• But must consider total cost.
• Reclassifying some products?
The price of vet medicines is under scrutiny by the NFU and NFUS.